Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll on the sidelines at CenturyLink Field. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Finally, an answer to what Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll maybe should have done with the football at the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX: he should have scootered into the end zone himself. In a on LinkedIn — which he just joined — Carroll shared a video in which he is shown racing around the hallways of a Microsoft office on scooters against the tech giant’s U.S. President . Johnson got the best of Carroll in the close race, in which someone in the video said, “always let the boss win.” The NFL coach, who also calls himself a culture creator, competitor, optimist, leader, teacher and learner in his LinkedIn profile, was at Microsoft as part of a partnership between the company and , an educational platform created by Carroll and Dr. Michael Gervais “designed to transform individuals and organizations.” Carroll said Compete to Create’s High Performance Mindset course is being used to train all Microsoft employees. The 18-part course curriculum includes such categories as Sleep Well, Control, Grit, Calm, Move Well and Think Well. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is listed under the Character section in which he and Carroll “teach the importance of becoming more aware of your character strengths and how to use them optimally day-to-day.” Microsoft CFO Amy Hood joins Gervais in the Calm section to “discuss the value of training calm. They introduce the concept of ‘FOPO’ and how fear can block your progress.” Carroll just joined LinkedIn a few weeks ago, and then that he was “looking forward to sharing stuff that we do in football and see how it relates to the corporate world.” The coach said he is still learning and growing himself.
Islamic State forces blew up the Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, as they withdrew from the city in 2017. (Photo Courtesy of History Blocks) Can a video game reclaim centuries’ worth of lost cultural heritage in the Middle East? Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition is being used to do just that, in league with UNESCO and schools around the world. History Blocks takes advantage of the educationally oriented Minecraft platform to build virtual versions of ancient monuments — starting with sites that were destroyed by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The project was conceived and developed by Agencia Africa in Brazil, and put to its first test this February at Escola Bosque, a private school in São Paulo. “It is surprising to see the level of the students’ engagement in the History Blocks project,” Escola Bosque’s pedagogical director, Silvia Scuracchio, said today in a news release. “At the same time that they solve complex geometry, logic and abstract challenges, it’s possible to see how they get involved with the culture and history behind the monuments and their destruction. For many of them, it was their first contact with concepts such as cultural destruction and ideology oppression.” Students aged from 9 to 13 built up their models from historical images of the , the and the entrance to the in Syria, as well as the and the in Iraq, and Afghanistan’s . Since February, the History Blocks project has been picked up by schools in more than 30 countries using the Minecraft Education Edition. “Technology is a tool to transform education and bring to life methods that used to be unthinkable when it comes to teaching,” said Daniel Maia, manager for academic projects at Microsoft Brazil. “The project on UNESCO’s world heritage sites opens the door for students all over the world to study important monuments of our history.” Minecraft and History Blocks are great teaching tools, but if you’re looking for high-fidelity models of heritage hotspots ranging from to Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, they’re covered by other software and survey programs. The International Council on Monuments and Sites, a U.N. advisory panel also known as ICOMOS, is one of the leaders in the effort to document cultural sites. Over the past few years, ICOMOS’ (from the Arabic word for “phoenix”) has been conducting surveys of sites in Syria, starting with six representative buildings in Damascus. You can . A historical conservation initiative called is playing a key role in 3-D documentation, for Project Anqa as well as s around the world. CyArk’s detailed digital scans feed into Google Arts and Sciences’ . For a powerful demonstration of the technology, check ou in South Dakota. (But make sure your computer is powerful enough for the task.) Could virtual models provide enough information to rebuild lost monuments? Historians and architects certainly hope so: They’re banking on surveys of Notre Dame, including conducted several years ago under the leadership of the late art historian , to serve as a guide for the reconstruction ahead.
Erez Barak, senior director of product for Microsoft’s AI Division, speaks at the Global Artificial Intelligence Conference in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Artificial intelligence can work wonders, but often it works in mysterious ways. Machine learning is based on the principle that a software program can analyze a huge set of data and fine-tune its algorithms to detect patterns and come up with solutions that humans may miss. That’s how Google DeepMind’s Alpha Go AI agent (and other games) well enough to beat expert players. But if programmers and users can’t figure out how AI algorithms came up with their results, that black-box behavior can be a cause for concern. It may become impossible to judge whether AI agents have picked up . That’s why terms such as transparency, explainability and interpretability are playing an increasing role in the AI ethics debate. The European Commission includes transparency and traceability among its , in line with the laid out in data-protection laws. The French government that powers the algorithms it uses. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission’s has been charged with providing guidance on algorithmic transparency. Transparency figures in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s as well — and , senior director of product for Microsoft’s AI Division, addressed the issue head-on today at the Global Artificial Intelligence Conference in Seattle. “We believe that transparency is a key,” he said. “How many features did we consider? Did we consider just these five? Or did we consider 5,000 and choose these five?” Barak noted that a is built right into Microsoft’s Azure Machine Learning service. “What it does is that it takes the model as an input and starts breaking it down,” he said. The model explanation can show which factors went into the computer model, and how they were weighted by the AI system’s algorithms. As a result, customers can better understand why, for instance, they were turned down for a mortgage, passed over for a job opening, or denied parole. AI developers can also use the model explanations to make their algorithms more “human.” For instance, it may be preferable to go with an algorithm that doesn’t fit a training set of data quite as well, but is more likely to promote fairness and avoid gender or racial bias. As AI applications become more pervasive, calls for transparency — perhaps enforced through government regulation — could well become stronger. And that runs the risk of exposing trade secrets hidden within a company’s intricately formulated algorithms, said , a partner at Seattle’s Perkins Coie law firm who specializes in trade regulations. “Algorithms tend to be things that are closely guarded. … That’s not something that you necessarily want to be transparent with the public or with your competitors about, so there is that fundamental tension,” Castillo said. “That’s more at issue in Europe than in the U.S., which has much, much, much stronger and aggressive enforcement.” Microsoft has already taken a strong stance on responsible AI — to the point that the company . After his talk, Barak told GeekWire that Azure Machine Learning’s explainability feature could be used as an open-source tool to look inside the black box and verify that an AI algorithm doesn’t perpetuate all-too-human injustices. Over time, will the software industry or other stakeholders develop a set of standards or a “seal of approval” for AI algorithms? “We’ve seen that in things like security. Those are the kinds of thresholds that have been set. I’m pretty sure we’re heading in that direction as well,” Barak said. “The idea is to give everyone the visibility and capability to do that, and those standards will develop, absolutely.”
The University of North Dakota is testing agricultural aerial imagery applications with drones. (UND Photo) Microsoft has awarded a $100,000 TechSpark grant to support , a brand-new startup that’s partnering with the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation to blaze a trail for drone applications in North Dakota’s “Silidrone Valley.” The seed money unlocks nearly $570,000 in additional funding for Airtonomy from local investors, Microsoft . “TechSpark saw the drone innovation in North Dakota’s Red River Valley that is driving exciting advances for the U.S. drone industry and wanted to be a part of it,” said Kate Behncken, general manager of Global Community Engagement at Microsoft. “This cutting-edge project has the potential to increase crop yields and boost the production of renewable energy through safe drone advancements created locally, leading to greater economic opportunities for North Dakotans.” North Dakota is one of the six states targeted by T, a Microsoft civic program created in 2017 to boost economic opportunities in rural areas and small communities. (The other states are Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.) “Microsoft’s TechSpark support represents a significant opportunity for a startup like ours that wants to innovate and create jobs here in our community,” said Airtonomy CEO Josh Riedy. “It gives confidence to others to back our work, providing the jump-start for us to develop a platform that can drive the next evolution in how drones are used commercially.” Airtonomy is combining drone technology and artificial intelligence to help clients in agriculture, energy and public safety realize the benefits of aerial imagery provided by multi-drone systems. The venture take advantage of North Dakota’s leading role as a testbed for drone operations. The Red River Valley has been dubbed the Silicon Valley of unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, thanks to the region’s open spaces, clear skies and the leading roles played by the University of North Dakota and the “UND Aerospace has a long history of providing leadership in aerospace innovation and economic diversification by supporting projects that advance the UAS sector and increase high-tech services in the Grand Forks region,” said UND Aerospace Foundation CEO Chuck Pineo. North Dakota’s Department of Transportation is for extended drone operations, including flying drones after dark and beyond an operator’s line of sight. A estimated the drone industry’s annual economic impact at more than a billion dollars, and said that figure could rise to as much as $46 billion by 2026.
Via Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is never short of courtside enthusiasm while watching his LA Clippers compete, as we documented on . But on Monday night, he took it to another level, as he witnessed a bit of NBA history as his team overcame the largest deficit ever in the playoffs with a 135-131 victory over the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers trailed by 31 points before mounting a comeback to stun the defending NBA champs at home in game two of the opening round series. Ballmer has owned the team since 2014 and they failed to even make the playoffs last year. It wasn’t looking like they’d be around long this year after a 121-104 loss on Saturday. But the founder of has got to be geeking out over the stats this morning: The Clippers’ comeback win was UNBELIEVABLE
Harry Shum is Microsoft’s executive vice president for AI and research. (GeekWire Photo) Microsoft will “one day very soon” add an ethics review focusing on artificial-intelligence issues to its standard checklist of audits that precede the release of new products, according to Harry Shum, a top executive leading the company’s AI efforts. AI ethics will join privacy, security and accessibility on the list, Shum in San Francisco. Shum, who is executive vice president of group, said companies involved in AI development “need to engineer responsibility into the very fabric of the technology.” Among the ethical concerns are the potential for AI agents to from the data on which they’re trained, to through deep data analysis, to , or simply to be . Shum noted that as AI becomes better at analyzing emotions, conversations and writings, the technology could open the way to increased propaganda and misinformation, as well as deeper intrusions into personal privacy. In addition to pre-release audits, Microsoft is addressing AI’s ethical concerns by improving its facial recognition tools and adding altered versions of photos in its training databases to show people with a wider variety of skin colors, other physical traits and lighting conditions. Shum and other Microsoft executives have discussed the ethics of AI numerous times before today: Back in 2016, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella for AI research and development, including the need to guard against algorithmic bias and ensure that humans are accountable for computer-generated actions. In a book titled “The Future Computed,” Shum and Microsoft President Brad Smith , supported by industry guidelines as well as government oversight. They wrote that “a Hippocratic Oath for coders … could make sense.” Shum and Smith , or Aether. Last year, Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz said due to the Aether group’s recommendations. In some cases, he said specific limitations have been written into product usage agreements — for example, a ban on facial-recognition applications. Shum told GeekWire almost a year ago that he hoped the Aether group would develop — exactly the kind of pre-release checklist that he mentioned today. Microsoft has been delving into the societal issues raised by AI with other tech industry leaders such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook through a nonprofit group called the . But during his EmTech Digital talk, Shum acknowledged that governments will have to play a role as well. The nonprofit AI Now Foundation, for example, has called for , with special emphasis on applications such as facial recognition and affect recognition. Some researchers have called for creating a who can assist other watchdog agencies with technical issues — perhaps modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board. Others argue that entire classes of AI applications should be outlawed. In an and an , a British medical journal, experts called on the medical community and the tech community to support efforts to ban fully autonomous lethal weapons. The issue is the subject of a this week.
Microsoft and University of Washington researchers built an automated system that was fed by bottles of chemicals to encode date in custom-designed DNA molecules. (Microsoft / UW Image) DNA data storage holds the promise of putting huge amounts of information into a test tube — but who wants to carry test tubes around a data center all day? Researchers from Microsoft ahd the University of Washington are working on a better way: a completely automated system that can turn digital bits into coded DNA molecules for storage, and turn those molecules back into bits when needed. They used their proof-of-concept system, described in a paper published today in , to encode the word “hello” in strands of DNA and then read it out. That may sound like a ridiculously simple task, but it served to show that the system works. “We have conviction that DNA molecules are good candidates for data storage. But we are, at heart, computer architects. We really want to figure out what a future computer could look like,” Luis Ceze, a professor at UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, told GeekWire. “What’s exciting for us here is that It’s one step toward showing a computer system that has a molecular component and an electronic component.” The mechanism for DNA data storage is similar to the way the DNA in our cells encodes genetic information: Instead of using electronic ones and zeros, the encoding system translates data into DNA base pairs, using the chemical “letters” for adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (A, C, G, T). “Hello,” for example, could be coded into the chemical string TCAACATGATGAGTA. It’s important to note that the custom-made molecule doesn’t do anything genetically. Rather, the system merely uses the chemicals in DNA as code. “There are no cells, no organisms,” said Microsoft principal researcher Karin Strauss. The method dramatically increases the density of data storage. Theoretically, you could store a billion billion bytes of data (known as an exabyte) in a cubic inch of fluid, Strauss says. In past experiments, the Microsoft-UW team ranging from historical texts to cat pictures to a high-definition OK Go music video. UW’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory even has a where you can upload your own files for DNA storage. But that work involved a lot of manual steps to figure out the code, send an order to get the molecules synthesized, wait for the DNA to come back in the mail and then run the experiments. Because so much handling was involved, there were lots of opportunities to make mistakes. That would never fly in a commercial setting. “You can’t have a bunch of people running around a data center with pipettes — it’s too prone to human error, it’s too costly and the footprint would be too large,” study lead author Chris Takahashi, senior research scientist at the Allen School, said in a news release. That’s why an automated system is a big deal. The system takes advantage of Microsoft software to translate digital code into DNA code. That code is then automatically sent to a synthesizer that combines the required chemicals and liquids, in just the right order and proportions, and then spits out the custom-made DNA molecules into a storage vessel. To read out the data, the DNA is drawn into an apparatus that adds chemicals and pushes them through a nanopore DNA sequencing machine. The sequence is automatically converted into the ones and zeros of digital data. Ceze said the procedure still took 12 to 16 hours, but the elapsed time wasn’t the point of this experiment. Rather, the point was to show that an automated system could do the work reliably from start to finish. The Microsoft-UW team has also created a on a digital microfluidic device dubbed PurpleDrop . The operating system, known as Puddle, can be used to issue commands for a microfluidic system, much as a more conventional operating system like Linux can issue commands for an electronic computing system. Here’s a sample of Puddle code: a = input(substance_A) b = input(substance_B) ab = mix(a, b) while get_pH(ab) > 7: heat(ab) acidify(ab) “What’s great about this system is that if we wanted to replace one of the parts with something new or better or faster, we can just plug that in,” Microsoft researcher Bichlien Nguyen said. Eventually, a next-generation DNA data storage system could be combined with devices like PurpleDrop and software like Puddle to create a computer environment based on microfluidics instead of electronics. Ceze said that would probably lead to hybrid computer systems that blend the processing power of electronic computing with the data storage density of DNA. “Our vision for using molecules is for applications that have a very large of data,” he said. “The kind of computing that we are exploring is pattern-matching and approximate search. If you have a large collection of images and video, how do you find similar images, how do you find similar videos?” Ceze and his colleagues already have demonstrated how for images that match a given query. That kind of capability is something that the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is . Also this week, researchers at Caltech and the University of California at Davis that uses self-assembling DNA molecules to run algorithms. “It’s super-interesting,” Ceze said. “It allows you to do computation at the molecular scale … but it’s not really about processing large amounts of data, which is our goal.” DNA-based computer systems aren’t likely to show up at Best Buy anytime soon. “We’re really imagining this being deployed in the cloud. … The scenario that we see is replacing parts of a larger-scale system that sits in a data center with system components that use molecular data storage and molecular data search,” Ceze said. Strauss isn’t willing to predict how long it will take to add DNA to Microsoft Azure, but she’s confident that Microsoft and UW will do what it takes to turn the experiment into a product. “We have a very special team here,” she said. “We’ve very lucky to be in an environment where people are willing to make bets and innovate.” The University of Washington’s Luis Ceze and Microsoft’s Karin Strauss are part of a team for the DNA data storage project. (Tara Brown Photography / University of Washington) Takahashi, Nguyen, Strauss and Ceze are co-authors of the open-access study in Nature Scientific Reports,
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Microsoft President Brad Smith discuss the challenge of quantum computing during a fireside chat at the Northwest Quantum Nexus Summit at the University of Washington. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) The Pacific Northwest may be known for tech icons like Microsoft and Amazon but when U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was asked what advice she’d give to the researchers and executives who are trying to up their game when it comes to quantum computing, she invoked a slogan used by a totally different kind of industry leader. “To borrow from another Northwest icon, ‘Just Do It,’ ” she said, referring to Nike, the Oregon-based sporting goods powerhouse. During today’s fireside chat with Microsoft President Brad Smith at the kickoff summit of a public-private consortium called the , Cantwell said quantum computing could become as much a part of the Pacific Northwest’s tech scene as Boeing and Microsoft, Amazon and Blue Origin. Quantum computing is a fuzzy approach to number-crunching that’s totally different from the classical data processing methods that have ruled the tech world for decades. Researchers haven’t yet created a universal quantum computer, but Vancouver, B.C.-based is already selling access to a . Microsoft, meanwhile, is aiming to . Cantwell and Smith acknowledged that relatively few folks in the general public are keyed into what computer scientists call “the quantum advantage” — that is, the ability of quantum computation to solve problems in chemistry, materials science and other fields that simply can’t be addressed by classical computers. Smith even wondered whether Cantwell’s colleagues in the Senate were able to keep up. “In some ways, the first test of whether a topic will resonate with the general public is whether people can reach the members of the House and Senate,” Smith mused. “Is that supposed to be funny?” Cantwell deadpanned. Cantwell, who worked as a tech executive at Real Networks before her election to the Senate in 2000, said members of the general public aren’t likely to get excited about quantum computing until they see its applications come to life — for example, in the form of exotic materials for super-efficient power storage batteries. “We’re so close on some of the renewables, yet we need to solve the storage problem to really make it work,” she said. The fact that the payoff may be a long time coming doesn’t mean entrepreneurs should back away from the frontier, she said. “What you can’t predict is how fast breakthroughs are going to happen. … Unleash it, just do it, unleash that, and my guess is we’ll be pretty surprised at what people can accomplish,” Cantwell said. Previously: Cantwell and other policymakers are already “doing it” by following through on the , which sets aside $1.2 billion over the next five years to boost quantum information science. The senator, who serves as the ranking member on the , said that funding will now have to go through the appropriations process to identify specific programs to receive the money. The legislation calls for , and one of the Northwest Quantum Nexus’ objectives may well be to bring one of those centers to our neck of the woods. Cantwell acknowledged that the $1.2 billion pales in comparison with the . “Are we going to spend as much as the Chinese? No, I don’t think we’re going to spend as much as the Chinese, but I think we’ll spend enough so that the people here in the United States can work collaboratively to get this done,” she said. Working collaboratively could well be one of the Pacific Northwest research community’s greatest strengths. The newly formed Northwest Quantum Nexus serves as an example: Microsoft, the University of Washington and the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are spearheading the initiative, but the more than 400 people who registered for this week’s summit at UW also include representatives of the region’s other universities as well as Boeing, Vulcan, Google and other tech companies. (No one from Nike, though.) “There’s so much collaboration in the Northwest, and I guess that’s what really makes me excited. … There’s so much innovation, but if you can’t implement it, then what’s the point?” Cantwell said. “One thing that we’re really good at here in the Pacific Northwest is, obviously we believe in science, and the fact that we collaborate very well across a lot of different disciplines to make those things work .”
has shared some more and the first at . The company has been working on a cloud game streaming service for a while. Microsoft is preparing the future of gaming platforms with a device-agnostic service that lets you stream games made for the Xbox One. And the first demo is Forza Horizon 4 running in a data center and then streamed to an Android phone attached to an Xbox One controller via bluetooth. "Anywhere we have a good network connection, we'll be able to participate in Project xCloud,” Microsoft head of gaming cloud Kareem Choudhry said in the video. While Forza Horizon 4 is a demanding game and an Android phone is a tiny device, it won’t be limited to extreme scenarios like that. Choudhry compared Project xCloud to a music streaming or video streaming service. When you have a Spotify account, you can log in from any device, such as your phone, your computer or your work laptop, and find the same music library and your personal music playlists. You can imagine an Xbox-branded service that you could access from any device. Even if your computer has an integrated Intel GPU, you could log in and play a demanding game from that computer. Everything would run in a data center near you. It’s easy to see how Project xCloud would work with Microsoft’s existing gaming services. The company promises the same games with no extra work for developers. You’ll access your cloud saves, your friends and everything you’re already familiar with if you’re using an Xbox or the Xbox app on your PC. If you’ve bought an Xbox, an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One, there will be more Xbox consoles in the future. “It's not a replacement for consoles, we're not getting out of the console business,” Choudhry said. Other companies have been working on cloud gaming. French startup Blade has been working on , the most promising service currently available. Shadow lets you access a Windows 10 instance running in a data center. Microsoft wants to associate technology with content. The company already sells a subscription service. With the , you can play Xbox One and Xbox 360 games for $10 per month. Let’s see how Project xCloud and the Xbox Game Pass work together when Microsoft starts public trials later this year.
Cyemptive CEO Rob Pike. (Cyemptive Photo) Former executives from the National Security Agency, Microsoft, Hitachi, and other companies are behind a Seattle-area cybersecurity startup that just came out of stealth mode three years after it launched. on Tuesday announced a $3.5 million investment round from undisclosed investors. The company’s executive team includes founder , who was previously an executive at Hitachi; , who was formerly chief information officer at Microsoft; and , who spent 30 years at the NSA, most recently as chief computer architect. Cyemptive describes its cybersecurity software as an “automatic self-repairing reliable platform.” It sells products including an endpoint protection service and advanced perimeter firewalls, among others. “We have invented technology that detects and deals with hackers in seconds, as opposed to existing solutions which can take weeks to months,” Pike told GeekWire. Pike said the technology is “a truly preemptive solution” which disallows actions that would corrupt a system or encrypt a file. It does not rely on API monitoring. “Such an approach is both too late and much too cumbersome as the sheer volume of APIs prevents effective protection after the fact,” he said. Cyemptive has more than 100 business and government customers, but Pike declined to provide details on specific clients. The 60-person company has additional offices in Washington D.C., Nevada, Canada, and India. Other execs include Bryan Greene, a former cybersecurity solution architect at HP and Pat McDermott, a veteran finance executive. Cyemptive recently won a national competition hosted by the Department of Homeland Security’s , beating out more than 60 other companies. “We were successful in convincing a comprehensive panel of senior government officials that our technology solution was the most innovative compared to the other concepts,” Pike said. “Cyemptive’s technology can be applied across a broad range of systems, including multiple border security needs and requirements.” The global cybersecurity market is expected to eclipse $200 billion by 2021, according to .
is set to announce a brand new hardware device at MWC in Barcelona — the new HoloLens headset. The conference starts at 6:00 PM CET (5:00 AM GMT, 12:00 PM ET, 9:00 AM PT). If you’ve ever tried the HoloLens, you know that this it is a magical device. But Microsoft quickly realized that it had more potential for industrial use cases. It is now positioned as a B2B device. Let’s see what Microsoft has in mind with the second-generation HoloLens. The company is also going to talk about its mobile strategy when it comes to apps and services on iOS and Android. You can check it out live via Microsoft’s official stream above, and stay tuned on TechCrunch.com for ongoing coverage of .